Villanova women win by inches, set record at Penn Relays

Villanova women win by inches, set record at Penn Relays
April 27, 2013, 8:45 pm
Share This Post

Emily Lipari edged out Oregon's Laura Roesler by 0.12 seconds at the finish. (USA Today Images)

Villanova had two freshmen and no seniors on its 4x800 relay team. It was a race the Wildcats had never before entered at the Penn Relays during head coach Gina Procaccio’s 12-year tenure. And, heading into the final lap, they trailed track powerhouse Oregon.

Somehow, none of that mattered.

In what was perhaps one of the biggest moments in the illustrious history of the Villanova women’s track program, 'Nova junior Emily Lipari chased down Oregon star Laura Roesler right before the finish line to lift the Wildcats to a thrilling 4x800 Championship of America victory Saturday at the Penn Relays.

Villanova’s time of 8:17.45 was a collegiate and Penn Relays record -- and would have been an American record if not for Team USA’s record-setting win in the “USA vs. the World” women’s 4x800 earlier in the day at Franklin Field.

“I can’t even believe it,” Procaccio said. “This is one of my favorite relays and we just haven’t had one in about 15 years. And I was just so excited that we even put together a 4x800 [team]. I knew their splits on paper, and I told them, ‘You can do it. It’s the last day. Anything can happen.’”

Freshman Kelsey Margey and Angel Piccirillo ran the first two legs in 2:07.04 and 2:04.12, respectively, before passing it off to junior Nicky Akande, who ran the third leg in 2:04.04.

Roesler passed Lipari early in her run, and for a while it looked like Oregon would hold on to win the race. But the Villanova junior began her push with around 100 meters to go before speeding by Roesler and sending ’Nova to its first Penn Relays 4x800 win since 1997.

Lipari, who also anchored Villanova to the distance medley relay title on Thursday, was named the College Women’s Athlete of the Meet for Relay Events.

“It’s all about guts,” Lipari said. “It’s all about heart. Whoever Oregon was going to put on that leg didn’t matter to me because these three girls totally set the tone for the race.”

Margey and Piccirillo certainly showed a lot of guts and heart considering they’re freshmen. But both have experience at the Penn Relays from high school and both have always understood the Villanova tradition.

“It means the world [to win here] because we’re Villanova and this race is in our backyard,” Margey said. “There is a huge emphasis on this meet. It’s such a special event to have the crowd cheering for you when you’re running. It was amazing. It was the best race I had in college. It’s something I’ll remember forever.”

The victory was especially gratifying because it came a day after Villanova placed third in the 4x1500 championship, just behind Michigan and Oregon. That loss hit them hard, even though they had just won in the DMR a day earlier.

“I think it was rough not winning yesterday, so we just wanted to come back with a vengeance,” Akande said.

“You have two choices as a runner,” Lipari added. “You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself and let it affect the next day, or we could use [our defeat] and get our team all fired up and get ourselves to believe that we could do it.”

The Wildcats always had the belief. And now they have two more Penn Relays wheels to add to their growing collection.

Sadly for Villanova, the Wildcats men did not have the same luck. A day after placing second in the distance medley relay, the ’Cats finished third in the 4xMile and second in the 4x800 behind Penn State.

Like the Villanova women, the Penn State men left Franklin Field with two championships and the athlete of the meet (Casimir Loxsom).

“It was awesome,” Penn State coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said. “The amount of energy we put into this weekend from start to finish was just the topper for us. This has been something we have had our eyes set on for years.”

The Villanova coach was even more enthused.

“I can’t believe it,” Procaccio said, gushing from the start of the press conference to the end. “A collegiate record. Never in a million years would I have expected this.”

USA still better than 'The World'
A year ago, Team USA swept all six nationally televised “U.S.A. vs. the World” races leading up to the Olympics.

The Americans didn’t do quite as well in the marquee events on the final day of the Penn Relays this year, losing the men’s distance medley to Ethiopia and second-place Kenya and the women’s 4x100 to Olympic gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Jamaica.

But they still had a very impressive day, highlighted by a record-setting run in the women’s 4x800. Anchored by Alisia Montaño, the U.S. won the race in 8:04.31, obliterating the previous American record of 8:17.91.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Montaño said in the post-race press conference. “It’s an amazing way to open the season. An American record, right ladies?”

The U.S. was also victorious in the men’s 4x100 and the men’s and women’s 4x400.

One of the big highlights of those races was Manteo Mitchell running the second leg in the winning 4x400 relay in his first race since breaking his leg at the London Olympics.

“First and foremost, I’m just glad to be back,” Mitchell said. “I’m glad to be healthy.”

Another big highlight was Doc Patton helping the 4x100 team to the victory in what marked his seventh win at Penn Relays. And after the race, the 35-year-old Patton revealed it might be his last.

“You’ve got people like John Elway, Ray Lewis that went out on top,” Patton said. “So hopefully I can do the same, man. I’ve been blessed so far.”

More Team Talk